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Photo by Ray Thomas.

Photo by Ray Thomas.

(Article by Jeannette Cruz, featured in the West Valley View.)

Most people don’t spend time discussing literature with inmates, but Sara Dobie Bauer isn’t most people. The Goodyear author established a book club three years ago at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville in Goodyear.

Dobie Bauer, who is a board member for the nonprofit Gina’s Team, which works to improve the lives of inmates and ex-convicts in the Valley, said she was inspired to write an essay about her experience at the prison after realizing the importance of hope.

Her essay “Hope in Orange” will be featured in the upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back.

“I wrote an essay about what it’s like going to a prison, spending time at a prison and realizing that no matter how much I think I have to offer, the women behind bars have so much more to offer me,” Dobie Bauer said. “Together, we lift each other up. Together, we bring each other hope. Together, we laugh, together we cry — all through the catalyst of books.”

With shows such as Orange is the New Black, many people think all inmates are “scary and tough,” Dobie Bauer said.

“Once you sit down, you realize most of them are the same age as you and they just made one mistake, or maybe life dealt them a bad hand and they had a really bad upbringing, and the only way they could get out was through crime,” she said.

She considers herself an ideal candidate to go into the prison, because she suffers from mental illness, Dobie Bauer said.

“I have depression. I have an anxiety disorder. I have post-traumatic stress. So, some days, even though I am not behind bars, I still feel trapped by fear and by sadness,” she said. “Emotions can be my prison, whereas these women have emotional prisons and literal prisons. But, despite the prisons we inflict on ourselves and that we suffer through, there is hope.”

She believes books have an amazing power to heal, and when selecting books for her book club, she looks for those that have had an emotional impact on her life, Dobie Bauer said.

“These women are really into it. They are so smart and so good at taking out the important things in these books, talking about it and really relate to everything,” she said.

Earlier this year, the book club read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and explored a plot surrounded by murder, a poisonous marriage and dark elements.

“I didn’t think it was that great when I read it, but I was curious about what the women would think, and it was the most fiery conversation we’ve ever had because the opinions were so divided on who was more of a psychopath — the husband or the wife,” Dobie Bauer said. “I didn’t even have to speak the entire time.”

(Read the rest at West Valley View. Pre-order your copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back HERE.)

Photo by Paul Jacob.

Photo by Paul Jacob.

I feel conflicted.

Due to the whole Caitlyn Jenner/ESPY and gay marriage in the USA thing last week, my dad wrote a lamenting post on Facebook about “the state of things” for Christians in America and got equally applauded and attacked.

The big surprise for me was that some of his attackers were my childhood friends. I’m not surprised they disagree with my dad; I’m surprised they were surprised by his post. I mean, my dad is the most conservative Christian I know. The fact that he considers gay marriage, nationwide, to be a bad thing should go without saying.

His post inspired a conversation between Jake and me. The conversation we had was a bit worrying, because we both realized it feels as though Christians can’t disagree with gay marriage without being vilified, which means people are being vilified for having an opinion, and we all have a right to our opinions … even if that opinion isn’t the cool, new trend on Twitter.

I know how I identify. I am:
Female
Christian
Pro-choice
Pro-gay marriage
An erotica author
A prison rights advocate
The proud owner of a .38 special named Annie Oakley

I’ve long since realized I’m not a republican or a democrat. I’m not liberal or conservative. I’m a Benedict Cumberbatch-loving geeky writer with a husband and two dogs. I dance in rainstorms and make people laugh with my creative usage of the f-word.

My most famous story to date is “Don’t Ball the Boss,” nominated for the much-coveted 2015 Pushcart Prize. It was about a highly inappropriate and hilarious gay man and his sexual fixation with his straight male boss, which got me (like my father) equally applauded and attacked. And I was writing fiction!

I know where I stand, philosophically and creatively, but I’m wary about discussing it. I’m getting a little shaky about being honest and having a voice—and what the hell is a writer without a voice? For instance, I wrote an article about Lana Del Rey fans months ago and was bludgeoned to death by cries of “slut shaming!” and “women’s rights!” and “you’re just old and bitter!”

Damn. I was just making a point about idol worship.

Despite negative feedback, I can’t shut up. I can’t keep my politically incorrect mouth restrained. I have an opinion, and I’m allowed to have my opinion. So is everyone else, even if I think it’s wrong. It’s an opinion. Without opinions, we’d live in a world of peace and harmony and … boredom.

I realize that someday soon, one of my labels—the Christian one—will become a minority. In fact, someday, I might be locked up because I pray every day and think God is a pretty cool dude. Like Daniel with the lions, I’ll be added to the menu, but not yet.

For now, I still have a voice. So with that voice, I’ll say, congrats on gay marriage, but let’s not slander people who are against it. Remember: it’s not Christian versus gay; it’s about all of us listening to and respecting each other.

A final word from the Man upstairs: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. … Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation.”

MSGI-charleston-savannah-multisport-12

Oh, city of raw oysters and lamplight,
Of uneven, brick sidewalks and Rainbow Row.
Dear haven of seafood cuisine and champagne,
Quiet jazz and Southern charm.

You embraced me—our two-year affair—
Welcomed a Yankee and called yourself “Home.”
In your arms, I felt love:
With you, with men, with myself.

When lonely, I walked the Battery.
When happy, I wandered East Bay.
When too hot, I hid in your restaurants.
When it snowed, I walked the Market in awe.

You were a place of love and loss—
But also of joy and never-ending beauty,
Of climbing vines and green gardens,
The smell of the sea and flooding streets.

I sang down your alleys.
I danced on your roofs.
I dawdled on street corners.
Cigarette smoke and a stolen kiss.

I left you too soon …
No longer did your sweaty summer arms surround me.
No longer did I hear the sound of the sea.

But even now, I hear you:
The tick of a quiet drum beat.
The clink of wine glasses.
The slide of an oyster, shucked.

From across the country, I cry for you, my beloved city.
I mourn the loss of peaceful walks, quiet talks.
Do dark alleys seem darker?
The music more subdued?

Don’t lose yourself, dear girl.
You are protected; you are loved.
The only red on your streets should be a spilled Bloody Mary.
The only scream … one of joy.

23BABADOOK2-articleLarge

If you know me at all, you know I love scary movies. I find them therapeutic, as in, “Well, at least I’m not THAT person, being chased by the psycho with the butcher knife!” Really puts life in perspective.

In the past week, I’ve watched three horror films: The Babadook, Oculus, and The Others. Two of these movies I watched alone, which meant I couldn’t go pee without first checking behind the shower curtain because YOU JUST NEVER KNOW.

Babadook is about a monster that pops out of a children’s book. Oculus is about a damn evil mirror. The Others is about … I can’t tell you, because it’ll ruin everything. That said, all three of these ghoulish, scream-worthy films had one thing in common: mad mommies. Crazy ladies. Bonkers beauties.

Got me thinking about the horror movies of my glorious youth. Remember them? Movies like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. Going further back, Dracula and Frankenstein. These movies were about identifiable monsters: creatures (human and otherwise) that came for you in the night. These horror flicks gave you a villain and told you which way to run.

Flash to 2015, and although the monsters (and ghosts) are real, the main concern — the real fear — is mothers killing their own kids. Mothers gone mad. The monster is no longer something we run from but something within the people we love and trust the most.

Is the change because, in the glory days of horror, back when Stoker and Shelley were writing their masterpieces, we didn’t want to think that the monsters were, in fact, ourselves? In the cases of both Dracula and Frankenstein, the creatures were certainly metaphors of what humans could do to each other, but they were only that: metaphors.

Now, we see horrible things on the news — people killing each other, mothers drowning their children, mothers going mad — and we realize … The monsters are real.

There has been an outpouring of these crazy mommy movies in the past year. I don’t mean to discount gorgeous films like The Shining and Amityville Horror, in which daddy goes dark, but those 80s pics didn’t feel quite as upsetting. They weren’t as upsetting because, in the 80s, we still didn’t want to think about a mother killing her kids. Now, it happens. We watch the news; we watch the court cases. We shiver.

No longer are we running from guys in masks. If horror movies are any indication, it’s reality that truly scares us — what we are capable of — and human nature is a lot scarier than a guy with claws.

ClockworkCrown_331x500

Today … that’s right, TODAY … the much-anticipated sequel to Beth Cato’s Clockwork Dagger is available for purchase all the world over. Because I’m, like, important and stuff, I already read the sequel, Clockwork Crown, months ago, and I’m not exaggerating when I say you should buy your copy now.

Just for fun, I decided to pick Beth’s brain in the weirdest way possible: PICTURE ASSOCIATION! I sent her pictures; she sent me the first thing that popped into her head. Most of the images relate to Clockwork Crown, so enjoy this little visual tease and join the Cato Club today!

Tobias Sheck / Flickr

Tobias Sheck / Flickr

“What a moody, grim scene. It makes me think of the city of Mercia within my world of The Clockwork Dagger. It’s a massive sprawl of skyscrapers and factories, and no plants survive there. People suffer all kinds of respiratory illnesses and cancers. I could see this being a rare stand of woods downwind.”
Gremlin

Inti / Flickr

“AHHH. Scary 1980s gremlin! I never liked those movies when I was a kid. They were too creepy. I did want to channel some of those monstrous elements in my version of gremlins, though. My books show them as beings both cute and hideous. Plus, my gremlins can get wet AND be fed after midnight. Preferably, some cheese.”

Herbs

Sonny Abesamis / Flickr

“Herbs remind me of my heroine, Octavia. She needs particular blessed herbs to be able to call on magic to heal her patients. Gardening and herbs are her happiness.”

Kiss

The Prophet / Flickr

“Everything about this pictures screams TENSION. It’s ragged breaths and sweat and need. This is what I hope I’m evoking with Octavia and Alonzo. It’s a steampunk society and the gender dynamics are very Edwardian. I don’t depict any sex or raunchiness–heck, I’ve had reports from multiple 11-year-olds who loved The Clockwork Dagger–but the passion is there. The need is there. They may not be able to act on it, but when they eventually do? Oh yeah. Fireworks.”
Steampunk

Davide D’Amico / Flickr

“Gadgetry! This is one of the funnest things about writing steampunk. It’s an age of invention and whimsy. A lot of the action in my first book takes place on an airship. It’s not a fancy vessel but there’s still an air of sophistication about it.”
Tree

subflux / Flickr

“This pictures smells. Do you smell it, too? There’s the rankness of rotting leaves and drenched bark. Octavia worships a world tree known as the Lady. The Tree is the source of Octavia’s magic, her peace, her hope. You don’t often see a positive lead character of faith in fantasy novels, but Octavia definitely bucks that trend.”
White-Dress

Vanessa Porter / Flickr

“Octavia wears an enchanted white dress and apron that stay clean no matter the muck or blood. The magic absorbs the filth and uses it like energy. I really like the simplicity of the gown in this picture. It’s closer to my vision of her dress than the one on the first book cover; they needed to make the steampunk genre stronger as a selling point, and a World War I-style nurse outfit wouldn’t have evoked that. It all makes sense.”
Sad-Skeleton

University of Liverpool / Flickr

“Ah, bodies and bones. This actually puts me in mind of a certain character in Clockwork Crown that I can’t even mention because it’s such a big spoiler. Read the book and I bet you’ll think of the same person when you look at this image again!”
Just-for-Fun
“This cat makes me think of gremlins again–my gremlins! My main gremlin is Leaf, and he’s based a lot on my cat Palom. The frenzied antics, the mews, the demand for attention … those were all signature Palom. He succumbed to cancer a few years ago, and I pay tribute to him in the acknowledgments for Clockwork Crown. Here’s for you, furball!”
To buy your copy of Clockwork Crown, head to Amazon immediately. You’re gonna love it!
c/o Bald Pirate Photography

c/o Bald Pirate Photography

Thank goodness Tiffany Michelle Brown writes the creepy stuff … because, in person, she’s actually a very cheerful woman, and I fear she might be a serial killer if she didn’t write.

Her work has been published internationally in horror journals and will soon be included in a dark erotica anthology. Brown knows her “dark stuff,” but she always finds a way to weave a touch of humor (and sex) into her work.

SPIN is the newest addition to her arsenal: a time travel novelette that follows guilty guy Walter as he uses a fantastical record shop to travel back in time to fix something. I can’t tell you what, because you have to read to find out. The novelette is being released today, so if you like the cerebral and weird, buy your copy.

First, though, check out this interview with author Tiffany Michelle Brown. Get to know the woman before SPIN makes you rethink every decision you’ve ever made.

If you could time travel, would you?
I would be the first girl with a ticket! I would absolutely time travel, but for very different reasons than my characters in SPIN. I wouldn’t go back in time to try to change anything that’s happened in my life, but I would go back to have one hell of an adventure and to experience something new. I’m a big believer in doing things that challenge and scare you and get you out of your comfort zone, and wouldn’t time traveling be an awesome way to throw yourself off balance? I’d be a bundle of excited nerves at the prospect.

Follow up: where/when would you go?
I haven’t really thought about the “where” a whole lot, but I would definitely travel back to the 70s. SPIN is basically a love letter to what I consider a golden age of music. A lot of my personal vinyl collection is from the 70s. Marvin Gaye, Queen, Aretha Franklin, Cheap Trick, and Bill Withers: does it get much better than that?

Cover by Bryan Mok.

Cover by Bryan Mok.

Having my Walter, the protagonist of SPIN, travel back to the 70s was a real treat for me. As I was writing this story, I lived vicariously through Walter and imagined myself wearing bellbottoms, going to concerts, and making love like my life depended on it in the 70s.

What was the hardest part about writing SPIN?
Figuring out the middle of the story. Going into SPIN, I knew how the story would open and I had already determined the ending, but the middle was a mystery to me … just like time travel. I’m one of those authors who buckles herself in and enjoys the ride. I develop a setting, characters, and a conflict, and then I wait to see how it will play out. I surprised myself with the middle of SPIN. Characters appeared that I hadn’t dreamed up before I wrote them. Little plot twists suddenly exploded on my computer screen. And I was able to guide all of that back to the conclusion I wanted, which felt really amazing.

Gimme your SPIN fantasy movie cast.
Ooh, fantasy cast! Yes, let’s make this a movie! Okay…
Walter (old age) – Chris Noth
Walter (young) – Miles Teller
Max – Idris Elba
Ebony – Candice Patton
Faith – Rosario Dawson
Marie – Emma Watson
Jennifer – Christina Hendricks
Harrison – Dermot Mulroney
Andy – Chad Michael Murray

How much power does the past hold over us?
I think the past does hold power over us, but only as much as you’ll readily give it. Regret can be debilitating if you hang it around your neck and let it drag you down, which is the case for Walter in SPIN. Forgiveness is powerful and sometimes you have to forgive yourself for mistakes.

I’m a firm believer that everything that’s happened to me up until now has shaped who I am and how I interact with the world. If I dwell too much on the mistakes I’ve made (and there are many), it’s a quick tumble back in time and to a bad place. But if I recognize my past, make peace with it, and move forward, I have ultimate power over my destiny. And that’s something my past can never take away from me.

What do you hope people gain by reading SPIN?

First and foremost, I hope they are entertained and I hope they enjoy the ride! I also hope it allows readers to ask themselves that age old question: If you could go back in time to change something, would you? And would you be willing to endure the consequences should a paradigm shift occur?

Buy your copy of SPIN on Amazon today (and on Smashwords, too). To read more about Tiffany, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter!

a-fantastic-fear-of-everything-official-trailer-hd-simon-pegg

Obviously, what all writers look like.

I have step throat, and I’ve decided when my body is sick, my mind goes a little mental, so bear with me. As most of you know, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. What does this mean? Well, it means I did not attend Phoenix ComicCon this past weekend, because HELL NO, I WON’T GO.

Several people asked if I would be attending, to which I responded, calmly, “Are you <censored> nuts?”

See, I have a two-hour maximum. Even with friends, it’s difficult for me to spend more than two hours outside my house, talking to people. Movie theaters are fine, because they’re dark, so I don’t feel like everyone is staring at me and waiting for me to say something completely inappropriate, as is my wont to do.

Also, crowds. I don’t do crowds. Makes me feel all itchy. Like fire ants are crawling up my nose.

Instead of leaving the house this weekend, I watched A Fantastic Fear of Everything with Simon Pegg: a movie about a writer who researches serial killers and, in turn, becomes convinced everyone is trying to kill him. Of course, I related.

1) As writers, we live outside our actual lives and in stories. Sometimes, waking up from stories can be jarring to the point of sudden screaming and/or asking the nearest person (usually my dog) what day it is.

2) The older I get, the weirder I get, which means my agoraphobia is getting worse.

Agoraphobia: “a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.”

Common places to avoid:

Costco

Baby showers

Neil Gaiman book signings

Doctors’ offices … which is why I refused to make a doctor’s appointment until I was rolling, sobbing on the floor in two-day-old pajamas, and Jake said, “But really, dear.”

In an effort to recover (from strep throat), I sleep or write. I read Sherlock fan fiction. I call my family and tell them boring, useless things. I drink watered-down Gatorade and eat eggs.

In an effort to stop the Howard Hughes process … well, I haven’t figured that out yet.

I’ve heard of other writers worse than me. Children’s book writer/illustrator Adam Rex once said he’s been known to spend days in his office without noticing the passage of time. The fact that his wife is also a writer doesn’t aid in this, as she does the same thing, and suddenly, they’re both like, “Hey. Should we bathe?” as they run blindly into each other in the darkened hall.

I guess it helps to have a husband and friends who understand The Way I Am. Jake doesn’t push, and when my friends see that look in my eye (akin to a serial killer twitch), they usually just shuffle me toward the nearest exit.

Maybe it has to do with living in a big city. Everything’s just too … big. Or maybe it’s just being a weird writer person.

Whatever the reason, I have built a “nest” in my office composed of a heavy, winter comforter; two pillows; and the teddy bear from my childhood, know as “Bearenheart.” Plus some Halloween-colored twinkle lights. I go there and huddle after most business meetings, public speaking events, and walks to the mailbox.

Okay, I’m not that bad, but, no, I didn’t go to Phoenix ComicCon.

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